OK, where am I headed with this post? It’s accessibility of online resources.
Two students from RIT started this new site as a project for their studies, but now plan to launch this fall “a non-profit effort to help blind people shop online and easily keep track of their wardrobe without the help of a sighted friend.”
Most shopping sites are heavily driven by images of products (in the paper catalog tradition) that fail miserably for visually imapired users. The site is set to be sound & text based.
Beyond recommendations and detailed descriptions of each item, when they order, they receive the merchandise with Braille tags indicating the designer, clothing type, size, and color for easy reference and another tag with washing instructions.
I don’t know how many of you have ever looked at sites like the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative or have checked your own site to see its accessibility.
In a previous position, I spent a lot more time considering these issues for web sites and online course materials. I was never able to generate much interest on campus from faculty to consider these issues when designing course materials or accompanying we pages. when I presented recently at EduWeb about our iTunes U efforts at NJIT, one audience member asked about accessibility issues using iTunes and podcasts in general and honestly I had no answer. I don’t think anyone, including me, ever brought it up in all our planning.
NJIT’s Continuing Professional Education division has a very interesting program running this summer for people with varying disabilities who want to enter the computer technology area, so I have been seeing these people on campus and working in the labs and it has been more on my mind. (Note to Tim - write post about this program.)
Just before I started this post, I ran this blog site through an online accessibility checker. I used Cynthia Says which is very easy to use, though rather difficult for non-web design people to interpret. (The HiSoftware CynthiaSays portal is a joint Education and Outreach project of HiSoftware, ICDRI, and the Internet Society Disability and Special Needs Chapter.) All you need to do is put in the URL of the site you want to check.
This blog fails miserably. I wonder if we even have any users who try to access the blog using special software for thiose with disabilities. We fare somewhat better using the W3C CSS validation checker - only 2 errors but 40 warnings. You won’t see me including their badge on this site in the near future.
I’m curious how many of you reading this check, validate and fix your site for accessibility. I’m particularly interested in bloggers and those using blogging software like Wordpress. Does it validate? Is your blog accessible and do bloggers care about this issue?